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Carcharodontosaurus (Wikimedia Commons)


Carcharodontosaurus (Greek for "great white shark lizard"); pronounced CAR-kah-roe-DON-toe-SORE-us


Woodlands of northern Africa

Historical Period:

Middle Cretaceous (100 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 40 feet long and 5-6 tons



Distinguishing Characteristics:

Long, bulky head; small brain


About Carcharodontosaurus:

A close relative of Giganotosaurus--which lived a continent away, in South America--the northern African Carchardontosaurus was one of the largest carnivorous dinosaurs that ever lived, with a longer, more massive skull than even Tyrannosaurus Rex and an earth-shaking weight of five or six tons. On the down side, though, this meat-eater also appears to have been substantially more stupid than T. Rex, with a much smaller brain cavity compared to its head size than has been observed in most other large theropods.

The "great white shark lizard" has had an especially troubled fossil history. When the remains of Carcharodontosaurus were first discovered, in Algeria in 1925, this dinosaur was interpreted as a species of Megalosaurus (not an uncommon fate for poorly understood theropods, since Megalosaurus was usually employed as a "catch-all" taxon at the time). Adding insult to injury, and further delaying the proper assessment of Carcharodontosaurus, the original fossils of this dinosaur were destroyed in a bombing raid on Germany during World War II, a fate that also befell the "type fossil" of another gigantic theropod, Spinosaurus.

There has been a lot of research conducted on the brain and inner ear structure of Carcharodontosaurus, to the extent that this is one of the best-understood dinosaurs, neurologically speaking. Although no soft tissues have been preserved, "endocasts" of Carcharodontosaurus' skull have revealed the general shape of its brain, and particularly the relative size of the hindbrain, midbrain and forebrain. The results tell us more about the relationship of Carcharodontosaurus to modern and contemporaneous birds and reptiles than it does about this theropod's overall IQ, but suffice it to say that it could easily have been outsmarted by a small poodle!


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